2. The Chinese Challenge to the Western Order

The end of the twentieth century witnessed "a reorientation of the world" and a global power shift toward the East Asia. China’s rapid growth over the last 30 years reflects a return toward this long-term historical equilibrium. China’s development, as well as that of the rest of Asia, will necessarily alter the preeminent geopolitical position that the United States has enjoyed since the end of the Cold War, and that Western nations have enjoyed since the 19th century. 
China's extraordinary economic growth and military build-up are transforming the Asia Pacific region. Will China overthrow the existing order or become a part of it? What are the implications for regional and global security? Will China’s rise underpin a more prosperous and stable East Asia and nascent regionalism, or usher in greater uncertainty, contentious territorial disputes with its neighbours, and big power competition and conflict? Will Beijing become a responsible power socialized to international norms and institutions ? Or will it seek to unilaterally restore a Sino-centric system in East Asia?
During the past decade, China has been actively engaging in its neighbouring diplomacy in terms of security, energy, and economic cooperation, among others. Understanding China’s complex strategy requires an examination in the context of regional and global power dynamics. 
This panel examines China’s expanding role and explores implications future geopolitical and economic equilibria.  What kinds of strategies should other global and Asian powers formulate in the context of a rising China? Are there any challenges or specific caveats for enhancing bilateral or multilateral cooperation? Should the EU, the United States and other Asian powers accommodate the Chinese rise or should they try to limit and contain it?
This panel provides a unique opportunity to understand China’s rise from a variety of theoretical perspectives welcoming contributions dealing with those issues both from a realist-positivist perspective and from a constructivist point of view.

Key words: China, East Asia, power shift, global order.

Chair: Antonio Fiori
Discussant: Matteo Dian

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Papers

1. Jie Yu  (London School of Economics and Political Science) - Not Quite a strategic Partnership: an assessment of China-EU relations in the era of Sovereign Debt Crisis.

This paper is to examine the developments of China’s EU policy in the period of global financial turbulences. Both China and the EU have consistently emphasised the importance of their diplomatic relations, and have made serious efforts to maintain sound economic ties. The two sides enjoyed a relatively short honey-moon period and then suffered bitterness by the end of 2008. In the past three years, their relations have again been revived against the backdrop of the global financial crisis and lingering Eurozone sovereign debate crisis. During this period, China’s engagements with the Union had largely reflected its rapid economic growth as well as a major political ideology shift amongst decision makers in Beijing. The main aim was to have amicable relations with both the EU and individual members and to accelerate China’s own economic modernisation through absorbing advanced technologies and industrial expertise, from the EU. Despite having strong commercial ties, their relations were no less problematic than China’s relations with other great powers. With the ups and downs of China-EU relations, both Beijing and Brussels were disenchanted by what they could offer to each other in order to establish a so-called “strategic partnership”. China recognised that the EU had a long way to go before it could become a credible player in the international arena. As a result, China shifted its strategy from dealing with Brussels to its strengthen bilateral ties with MS.

Unlike conventional understanding of Chinese Foreign Policy making, China should not be treated as a monolithic and unitary actor when it comes to analysing its foreign policies. In the context of Sino-EU relations, there are no shortage in numbers of actors participating in China’s EU policy making and implementation. The evolving nature of China’s EU strategy has reflected expanding scope and numbers of players participating in policy-making process. These actors are either semi-autonomous or autonomous, and had built up their own centre of gravity in attempts to shape Beijing’s EU policy agenda. On the one hand, these actors are pursuing economic statecraft under the remit of Beijing’s careful executions of its EU policy. On the other hand, these actors had mobilised their own expertise or formed alliances with other stakeholders to exert influence upon the Standing Committee of the Politburo (PSC), which is the ultimate FP decision making body in Beijing. This paper will also seek to explore the dynamics and the conflicts amongst these two groups of actors, either semi-autonomous or autonomous, when they comes to influence the policy making process as a whole. 

In doing so, this paper will firstly provide an overview of China’s EU policy by searching for its origins and objectives. It also aims to provide an insight into, and the identity of the main protagonists of the Sino-EU relations in the past three years. It will then identify who these actors are currently participating in formulating China’s EU strategy making as well as implementing that strategy in an era of economic uncertainty.  It will attempt to unfold these actors’ relations with decision makers, in other words, the relations between the bureaucratic/governmental actors and the ultimate decision-making entity.  And finally, this paper will explore the roles of non-state actors in this case the corporate sector, played in China’s EU policy making process. They have become vital and indispensible parts of China’s foreign policy making process in the era of economic turbulence..

 

2. Antonio Fiori (University of Bologna) and Andrea Passeri (University of Cagliari) - The U.S.– China Struggle for Influence in Southeast Asia: The Case of Myanmar

The American ‘return’ to East Asia, which has been pursued through the implementation of the ‘Pivot to Asia’ strategy in order to stem the political, economic, military and cultural projection of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in the region, is currently characterized by a particularly high degree of competition with Beijing among the small and medium Powers of Southeast Asia. It is no coincidence that, during the last decade, in this specific sub–region the PRC's ‘charm offensive’ achieved several significant outcomes; tarnishing, in some cases, the historical and consolidated ‘hub and spokes’ network of alliances inherited by the United States at the end of the Cold War.

In such a scenario, which has been also described as mutual soft–balancing, Myanmar represented the epicenter of the challenge among the ‘forerunners’ of the new and old regional order. In this case, the American pivot produced a major breakthrough in U.S.-Myanmar political interactions, to a large extent at China’s expenses. Most notably, when the Obama administration took office, the relations between Washington and Naypyidaw were in dire straits, due to a recent past characterized by diplomatic restrictions and economic sanctions. Americans thus decided to elaborate a profound revision of their Myanmar Policy, highlighting the urgency of shifting towards a ‘pragmatic engagement’ approach, able to enmesh Burmese leaders in a growing network of interactions. These efforts gained momentum after the Burmese elections of 2010 and the reintegration of the National League for Democracy led by Aung San Suu Kyi, which paved the way for the first visit of a U.S. President in the country, made by Obama in November 2012. More importantly, these steps have been accompanied by significant setbacks for China’s presence in the country, such as in the case of the suspension of the Myitsone Dam project.

Consequently, the principal objective of the present article is to explore the nature, reasons and patters of this ongoing process of strategic repositioning put into practice by Myanmar within the political triangle with Washington and Beijing. Against this backdrop, we will draw upon the conceptualization of ‘hedging strategy’, which identifies a set of multidimensional ‘insurance policies’ adopted by small actors in their relations vis-à-vis great powers, that avoids the choice of one side at the obvious expense of another as well as one more straightforward policy stance, such in the case of the classic balancing or bandwagoning patterns of behavior. 

 

3. Silvia Menegazzi (LUISS Guido Carli – Rome) – China’s pivot to the West: towards an independent foreign policy of peace? 

In recent years, China’s growing power and its future impact on international stability has been an intensely debated topic in international relations. Much attention has been directed to analyze China’s foreign policy and  how  its  future  direction  will  affect  other  countries’ destiny.  In  the  East  Asian  context,  the  People’s Republic  of China is  already  an  important  regional actor.  Its  security  strategy has  had  a  great  impact  on many  Asian  countries  in  terms  of  diplomacy  or  military  and  economic  issues,  strengthening multilateral organizations, as with ASEAN countries but also with China’s closest neighbours, Japan and South Korea.  As  such,  political debates  related  to  future  predictions  on  China’s  influence  have  shifted  towards  West, particularly in  North  Africa  and  the Middle  East (MENA).  Not surprisingly,  while  in the  past  China has largely remained a bystander in the region, with its global power growing, the PRC seems keen to seek its  ‘Western  pivot’  or  as  recently  articulated  by  Wang  Jisi,  one  of  China’s  most  prominent thinkers,  its ‘Marching West strategy’ -   西进 Xijin. Moreover, with the declining influence of the American presence in the MENA region and particularly with the recent conflicts in Libya and Syria, many are wondering what will be the future level of China’s engagement- both in the short and long terms- in the region. China’s international attitude seems now more proactive, although there is no certainty that the PRC in the region will behave merely as a ‘substitute’ of  previous Western countries. Based on official descriptions, China’s foreign  policy  is  characterized  by  an  ‘independent  foreign  policy  of  peace’,  where  common development  based  on    ‘win-win’ situations  have  to  be  promoted  worldwide,  particularly  in  developing  countries. In this light, the impact of a more assertive Chinese foreign policy in such regions and its ‘Chinese characteristics’ might be a challenge to the Western order, especially in terms of conflicts’ resolution and post-conflict settings.  This paper argues that in order to achieve a full picture of Chinese conduct and eventually, its normative underpinnings, particularly outside East Asia –namely the MENA region- we need to search beyond simply realpolitik-based explanations, paying attention on the one hand to the Chinese (traditional) understandings of world order and on the other, to Beijing’s current political thinking, considering how these two closely intertwined factors fit within the international environment. At the same time, despite China’s foreign policy behaviour is mostly the result of goals and priorities set by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership, this paper shows that foreign policy-related issues are also influenced by non-official channels and actors working outside the government apparatus, which therefore should be taken into account together with the CCP’s official line in order to enhance understandings about the present and future developments of China’s international relations. 

 

4. Simone Dossi (Torino World Affairs Institute) - China’s discourse on international politics. An analysis of “national defence” textbooks

Since 1984, “national defence education” (guofang jiaoyu, 国防教育) has become a compulsory subject for all Chinese university students. Courses on national defence are taught with special textbooks, whose content is regulated by a syllabus that is jointly released by civilian and military authorities. The assessment of the international environment provided by subsequent editions of these textbooks offers an interesting perspective to China’s changing discourse on international politics. The aim of this paper is twofold. First, it provides an introduction to the system of national defence education, with a preliminary section addressing in details the relevant institutional arrangements. Second, it draws on national defence textbooks to analyse how China’s discourse on international politics has evolved over the past twenty-five years.

 

5. Francesca Congiu (University of Cagliari) - The Chinese Labor Contract Law and the Western response

 Since the Chinese economic reforms and opening-up policies, China and the West developed a strong economic and political interdependence. China has become one of the major destinations of Western capital and Western industrial delocalization processes as well as the Western market has become the major destination of the Chinese export-oriented production – the main drive of its economic boom. The administrative, political and fiscal decentralization reforms have provoked the emergence of an harsh competition among Chinese provinces struggling to attract foreign investments firstly in order to modernize infrastructures and secondly to further strengthen local export-oriented economic processes. Together with infrastructural projects and fiscal incentives, the un-regulation and deregulation of labor practices have become the main instruments to attract foreign capital and to develop the export-oriented sector in a race to the bottom.

By using the international dimension of the Chinese labor issue as a key to read the contradictions of the Western order - caught between the condemnation of Chinese violations of international labor rights and the exploitation of the Chinese labor system – the paper aims to highlight how the recent Chinese labor reform and mainly its 2008 Labor Contract Law may represent a challenge to the West. On one side, there will be a collection of the reactions of European and US Chambers of Commerce to the drafting and promulgation of the Labor Contract Law.  On the other side, the paper will argue that the Labor Contract Law is part of a wider political project aiming at a significant transformation of the export-processing economic model which, until now, has been one of the major component of the international economic order. Dealing with major conflagrations of industrial conflicts, with nationalistic issues, and with a long standing global economic crisis, China needs to improve labor conditions, labor rights and salaries in order to develop a strong internal market and strengthen the Chinese communist party’s representative capacities. In order to protect its own national interests and likely to modify the rules of the international economic regime, China approached the international labor rights regime and paradoxically the West did not like it.

 

6. Barbara Onnis (University of Cagliari) - PRC’s Ideological Challenge to the liberal order

The re-emergence of China as a great power is one of the most important geopolitical events since the end of the Cold War. The tremendous economic success that the PRC has sustained in the last decades, which has witnessed an exponential growth in its political and diplomatic weight, has alarmed many analysts and has prompted politicians to wonder what kind of power would an increasingly stronger and bold China become. Generally speaking, the most of them considered China’s rise more a “threat” than an “opportunity”, focusing mainly on the economic and military aspects of such a “threat”. However, in a relatively short period of time China has taken a series of important steps to wield its influence in a responsible way, joining multilateral institutions, supporting peacekeeping missions, powering and sustaining economic growth in Latin America, Africa and Asia. More important, given its traditional aversion in meddling in other states’ domestic politics, China has engaged in mediating other nation’s conflicts and applying pressure on dangerous countries. This pragmatic shift has enabled China to amass a huge amount of influence worldwide, while at the same time it contributed to the appearance of a “Beijing consensus” providing less developed countries an example to ensure their own financial integrity as well as their sovereignty. At the beginning China’s lack of political openness and its state-centred model of development have attracted only some of the more authoritarian-minded leaders of the developing world.

PRC’s brilliant performance in weathering the 2008 financial crisis, and the contemporary failure of the western model, contributed to sanction the “victory” of the “China experience” – the so-called “China model” which represents a successful co-existence of a free market and an authoritarian state – determining an astonished reaction even among foreign economists and political scientists. That said it appears naive to continue to consider the “China threat” as predominantly an economic or a military one; actually, the growing role of China today represents clearly the most significant challenge to the liberal international order to emerge since the shaping of the Bretton Woods institutions. According to some authors, China represents a deeper and more serious challenge to the liberal order than it was the Soviet Union. In fact, the West cannot contain China in the same way it did with the URSS because the military dimension is just “one” of the different dimensions of Chinese power, and its economic success has “overpowered” the West. Furthermore, China’s experience has provided the world’s most irrefutable, high-speed demonstration of how to liberalize economically without surrendering to liberal politics, offering the world’s despots and not with a viable alternative to the so-called “Washington Consensus”. For these reasons, it seems plausible that China’s impact on the world will not simply be economic; rather it will also have profound political, cultural and ideological effects.